Conservation Update- Tyee Complex Fire
“A Good Fire”
By Janice Reid
The high severity of the Archie Creek Fire in 2020 was a real shock to most of us who live, work, or play in the area affected by the fire. Conditions were extreme, and a catastrophic event unfolded. This year, in September, another fire occurred in our beautiful Umpqua Watershed. The Tyee Complex Fire occurred in the Coast Ranges just northwest of Roseburg. Unlike the Archie Creek Fire, the Tyee Complex Fire was low severity. The fire rarely affected the crowns of the trees. The largest area affected by the fire was in the Cougar Creek drainage. Water from Cougar Creek flows directly into the Umpqua River. Late Successional Reserves identified in the Northwest Forest Plan are the dominant land use category in the area. Salvage operations were implemented just as they were with the Archie Creek Fire. Unlike the Archie Creek Fire, much of the forest remains intact, and hazardous tree removal along roadways will be minimal.
The Tyee Complex Fire created a mosaic of unburned and burned, including high, medium, and low-intensity fire. In essence, it did what fire has historically done for eons. Because of the fire suppression activities, some decisions made by the firefighters along the fire’s perimeter included cutting live trees. Some of these activities were opening previously closed roads, creating fire breaks, and initiating backburns, a technique to remove the fuels ahead of the fire to decrease the intensity and potential spread of the fire. Some of the firebreaks incuded heavy equipment entering Late Successional Reserves and cutting live trees along a ridgeline. Other activities by the fire suppression group were unclear. I attempted to understand why large live trees were cut in older forests near the perimeter, but I could not get a clear answer. The trees cut on federal land are mostly consolidated into decks near roads and will be removed under a categorical exclusion process. According to the Roseburg District Manager Heather Whitman, these logs are to be removed to prevent firewood cutters from being tempted during inappropriate times of the year, which could lead to another fire event. These logs are mostly from young stands. Umpqua Watersheds commented to the BLM on this categorical exclusion process, expressing concern about the process involving older forests. We hope our concerns are considered in the final process, and those logs in older forests remain to provide needed down woody debris for ecological purposes.
The only harvesting of live trees within the Cougar Creek area of the Tyee Complex is being conducted by Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), the company that purchased Seneca Sawmill acquiring 131,000 acres of land in Douglas County in 2021. The trees they are harvesting are small young trees from a plantation. Presumably, because of the purchase of the timberlands, SPI needs to generate some revenue and has turned to liquidating its timberland resources. On one field outing, the company appeared to have overstepped its property line and cut live young trees on federal land. Verification from the federal agency is pending.
It is unclear what the federal agency’s next steps are, but signs indicate a planned sale, salvage, or right-of-way. We will continue to monitor and comment on the activities to prevent unnecessary damage to the ecosystem and the Late Successional Forest.